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Colorectal screening option besides colonoscopy

Pluses & minuses of testing methods

PLAINS TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) - The CDC reports colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths for men and women combined. Early detection is critical to battle this devastating disease. 

More than 35 million Americans age 50 or older are not keeping up with their colorectal screening guidelines. For some, it's because they're uncomfortable with the process. Eyewitness News Healthbeat Reporter Mark Hiller takes a look at the options available to screen for colon cancer.

Geisinger Gastroenterologist John Boger, MD is armed with a traditional tool for colorectal screenings. "It's still the gold standard." Performing roughly 900 colonoscopies a year, Dr. Boger uses a flexible endoscope equipped with a fiber optic light and camera to explore a patient's colon, or large intestine, and search for signs of concern. "We want to make sure we find small polyps before they can grow up into cancers and sometimes they can be quite subtle."

But the flexible endoscope is no longer the only colorectal cancer screening tool in town. Less than four years ago, the FDA approved what's called Cologuard. More than one million patients to date have used it. "They collect a small sample of stool. They put it in the container and they ship it off," said Dr. Boger who says that sample undergoes DNA testing for possible malignancy. "The DNA is shed by the tumor and we can detect that in the stool. And it's also looking for the presence of microscopic blood."

Cologuard is considered effective at detecting cancer and large non-cancerous polyps. The test does not require liquid prep to clean out the large intestine which can be unpleasant yet necessary before undergoing a traditional colonoscopy. But Dr. Boger says keep one thing in mind. "It's more of a detection test rather than a preventative test."

While Dr. Boger says any colorectal screening test is better than none, he recommends a traditional colonoscopy which can also eliminate abnormal polyp growths. "We can remove them with these snares. So not only is the colonoscopy a diagnostic test but it can also be therapeutic and we can remove things before they become cancer."

It's recommended Cologuard users test every three years for colon cancer while colonoscopy patients can go as long as ten years provided they are not considered at increased cancer risk.
 


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